Wedding Photography in China

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Wedding, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China

Fujifilm XT-1, 35mm lens, 1/250 @ f8, ISO 200

It amused me to see recently married couples having wedding photos taken in the picturesque spots of Chinese cities. The couple above were being photographed at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Nobody seemed to mind when I made a few photos for myself.

I saw several other couples having wedding photos taken – it seemed to be done professionally with a make-up artist for the bride and an assistant to help the photographer with posing and lighting.

It was interesting to see the shoots take place, not only to see how people approach wedding photography in another part of the world, but because the choice of background is so different from the environment these young couples probably live in.

Let me elaborate. The modern parts of the Chinese cities I have seen (Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou and Suzhou) are a mess. For the most part they are ugly and dispiriting. Endless apartment blocks and shopping malls, and chaotic roads. There isn’t much greenery and nobody seems to have given much thought to the idea that people like to live in beautiful places.

Yes, the view of Pudong from the Bund in Shanghai is beautiful, Beijing has lots of beautiful historic sites, and Hangzhou’s West Lake is stunning. But once you get into the cities themselves, the places where the majority of the population lives and works, the story changes. You don’t have to look far to see signs of poverty and squalor amongst the wealth and advanced infrastructure that Chinese cities boast.

Look at China’s recent history and you begin to understand why. Until recently, most of China was very poor. Even in developed cities like Shanghai and Beijing a lot of people still live in poverty.

It is very difficult to be poor in China. The price of not having money is tremendous – poor people live in real squalor and the harsh climate (cold winters, hot humid summers) means that there is not much joy to be had in these circumstances.

Add to that the lack of social security that we are used to in the west (unemployment benefits, health insurance and even free education) and you can see that money is really important. The desire to lead a better life, with a good standard of living and access to material goods must be near universal. Combine that urge with the high price of failure apparent in China and you understand why things like beauty have a low priority in the rush to modernise and lift millions out of poverty.

Yet people still love and crave beauty, whether it is natural beauty or the beauty of architectural heritage like the Temple of Heaven. Beijing is a city very much connected with the past. Historic sites like the Forbidden City encapsulate the history and culture of China. I imagine that Beijing’s power brokers are very aware of the city’s history and have a strong sense of their place in China’s history.

For ordinary people, I suspect that having wedding photos taken in places like the Temple of Heaven is another way of connecting with the history of the city. It’s also a little bit of make believe – this is the fantasy of China rather than the reality.

Here’s another photo of the same bride, having a discussion with her photographer.

Wedding, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China


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